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WHY IT MATTERS: Issues at stake in election

Tuesday - 10/23/2012, 8:20pm  ET

By The Associated Press

(AP) - A selection of issues at stake in the presidential election and their impact on Americans, in brief:

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Abortion:

Abortion and birth control are divisive issues in politics, and they've flared up at times in this campaign despite the candidates' reluctance to dwell on them.

President Barack Obama supports abortion rights. And his health care law requires contraceptives to be available for free for women in workplace health plans.

Republican Mitt Romney opposes abortion rights, though he previously supported them. He says the Supreme Court ruling establishing abortion rights should be reversed, allowing states to ban abortion. He's also criticized mandatory coverage for contraception as a threat to religious liberty.

Romney's ability as president to enact federal abortion restrictions would be limited unless Republicans gained firm control of Congress. But the next president could have great influence over abortion policy if vacancies arise on the Supreme Court. If two seats held by liberal justices were filled by Romney-nominated conservatives, prospects for a reversal of Roe v. Wade would increase.

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Afghanistan:

U.S. troops are still in Afghanistan, 11 years after they invaded. Why? The answer boils down to one word: al-Qaida. The goal is to damage the terrorist group enough to prevent a repeat of the 9/11 attacks.

After nearly tripling the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2009-10, Obama is pulling them out, aiming to end all U.S. combat there by December 2014. He says Afghans are now "perfectly capable" of defending themselves. Romney now endorses ending combat in 2014, saying flatly "we're going to be finished" then.

Neither says, though, what happens if it turns out that by 2014, Afghan forces are losing ground and need U.S. forces to avoid a Taliban takeover.

Only small numbers of al-Qaida fighters are still in Afghanistan. But the concern is that if U.S. and allied forces leave prematurely, the Taliban would regain power _ and al-Qaida would not be far behind.

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Auto bailout:

There's little doubt the government bailout of General Motors and Chrysler kept the automakers afloat and saved huge numbers of jobs. But there's also little chance the government will get all its money back.

Taxpayers are out about $1 billion on the Chrysler rescue. GM stock is selling for less than half the price needed for the government to recover all of its nearly $50 billion investment in that company.

Obama carried forward a bailout begun by his predecessor. Romney opposed it. He said the companies should have gone through a private restructuring, with certain government guarantees after they reorganized.

Three years later, both companies are profitable. Chrysler has added almost 12,000 workers; GM, about 2,000. It's been estimated that 1 million jobs have been saved at automakers, parts companies and related businesses.

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Campaign finance:

This presidential election is on track to cost nearly $2 billion. It's a staggering tab, and those who kick in big money to cover it stand to gain outsized influence over policy decisions by whoever wins. Your voice may not be heard as loudly as a result.

Recent court decisions have stripped away restrictions on how elections are financed, allowing the very rich to afford more speech than the rest. In turn, super PACs have flourished, thanks as well to limitless contributions from the wealthy _ including contributors who have business before the government.

Disclosure rules offer a glimpse into who's behind the money. But the information is often too vague to be useful. And nonprofits that run so-called issue ads don't have to reveal donors.

Obama criticized the Supreme Court for removing campaign finance restrictions. Romney supported the ruling. Both are using the lax rules with gusto.

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China:

The U.S. accuses China of flouting trade rules and undervaluing its currency to helps its exporters, hurting American competitors and jobs. But imposing tariffs could set off a trade war and drive up prices for American consumers.

Tensions now have spread to the automotive sector: The U.S. is seeking international rulings against Chinese subsidies for its auto and auto-parts exports and against Chinese duties on U.S. autos. Romney says he'll get tougher on China's trade violations. Obama has taken a variety of trade actions against China, but on the currency issue, he has opted to wait for economic forces to encourage Beijing to raise values.

Cheap Chinese goods have benefited American consumers and restrained inflation. But those imports have hurt American manufacturers. And many U.S. companies outsource production to China. One study estimated that between 2001 and 2010, 2.8 million U.S. jobs were lost or displaced to China.

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